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smooth with glass. Alexei pushed open the gate crawled
to a bench and wanted to sit on it, but his body had
grown so accustomed to a horizontal position that he could
not straighten up. When, at last, he did sit down, his
whole spine ached. In order to rest he lay down on the
snow and half curled up, as a tired animal does.
His heart was heavy and sad.
Around the bench the snow was melting, exposing the
black earth from which warm moisture was rising, visibly
curling and quivering in the air. Alexei scooped up a
handful of the warm, thawing earth; it oozed between his
fingers like grease and smelt of dankness and dung, of
the cowshed and the home.
People had lived here, had, at some time or other,
long, long ago, won this patch of ground from the Black
Forest, had furrowed it with a plough, had raked it with
a wooden harrow, had manured and tended it. It had
been a hard life of constant struggle against the forest
and the beasts of the forest, of constant worry about
making ends meet until the next harvest. Under Soviet
rule a collective farm was formed and they began to dream
of a better life; farming machines came in, and with
them a sufficiency. The village carpenters built a kinder-
garten, and, in the evenings, watching the rosy-cheeked
children romping in this very garden, the men of the
village must have thought that it was time they set about
building a club and a reading-room where, cosy and warm,
they could spend a winter evening while the blizzard
raged outside; they must have dreamed of having
electricity here, in the depths of the forest. Now it was
nothing but a wilderness, a forest with its eternal, un-
disturbed silence.
^The more Alexei pondered over this the more active
his mind became. The vision of Kamyshin, that small,
dusty Volga town in the flat, arid steppe, rose before his
eyes. Jn the summer and autumn the sharp wind of the
steppe blew through the town carrying clouds of dust and
sand, which pricked the face and hands, blew into the
houses, seeped through the closed windows, blinded the
eyes and gritted in the teeth. These clouds of sand from
the steppe were called "Kamyshin rain", and for many
generations the people of Kamyshin had dreamed of